PORT ST. LUCIE, FL. (KMOV.com) -- The Cardinals and Mets ended Friday’s game with a 5-5 tie, but for all the action on the field, it was a conspicuous absence from it that drew attention.
Jordan Walden, who last threw March 21, was scheduled to throw in the game but never got up in the bullpen.
Afterward the hard-throwing righty said he was dealing with a “little knot” in his arm, but dismissed worry about a recurrence of his shoulder problems.
“My shoulder feels good. It’s just a knot. But my shoulder feels good the ball is still coming out. We’ll see tomorrow,” he said. “Just my shoulder started feeling really good, and I just think other parts of my arm weren’t used to it. Normal stuff, nothing crazy, nothing serious.”
While Walden downplayed the problem, Mike Matheny said the issue was cause for concern. He also added that, contrary to what Walden said, it was his understanding the injury was in the same area as the one that ended last season.
Walden was given an extra day of rest Thursday when the team went to Viera, but prior to Friday’s game at Tradition Field, informed his manager he wasn’t ready to throw.
“We were giving him an extra day anyhow yesterday, not a big deal. But today it couldn’t answer,” Matheny said. “We have to get him in there and see how he responds.”
Walden was diagnosed with a damaged rotator cuff last season, and rather than undergo surgery, opted for an intense strengthening program that targets the muscles around the shoulder. Neither path is demonstrably better for a pitcher, as rehab programs have failed before and surgery has left hurlers a shadow of their former selves.
But Walden has thrived in camp to this point. His fastball is quick and heavy and he has allowed just two hits total in his five appearances. He appeared to be on the path to resuming a bullpen role and rounding out an already impressive relief corps.
However, with his chosen rehab path, the hurdle for Walden has always been reliability. Returning to form is good, but his body must hold up from appearance to appearance. Taking the mound today means very little if he cannot be counted on to take it a day from now.
“He’s had lots and lots of rest, so we have to see. See how it responds. We’re going to need him go out and pitch and show he’s healthy,” Matheny said.
The Cardinals return to Jupiter Saturday to take on the Nationals. With innings growing scarce and tough roster decisions looming, Walden’s presence on the mound is crucial for deciding the team that takes the field opening day.
Were he to start the season on the disabled list, several names could be in line for a relief role. Tyler Lyons figures to make the team as a complimentary lefty, and given the fact he’s out of options and would have to clear waivers before he could be sent to Memphis, is probably in regardless.
The same can’t be said for Matt Bowman, a Rule 5 pick-up the Cardinals took from the Mets. He’s righthanded, but if the Cardinals want to put him in Triple-A, he would first be offered back to the Mets, then have to clear waivers.
Miguel Socolovich, Dean Kiekhefer and Sam Tuivailala all have a shot to make the pen as well, though are easier to move down. None are making the $3.6 million Walden is earning this year.
For his part, the 28-year-old is steadfast in his belief that this is a momentary setback.
“I’m happy I’m pitching in games, but this is just a little bump in the road I guess. Nothing serious and I’ll recover,” he said.
He must do it fast. The Cardinals have only six Grapefruit League games remaining.